SPORTS

Australia’s crack pursuit team reigns on

Australia’s crack pursuit team confirmed their peerless status with an awesome Olympic Games victory yesterday. Australia, represented in the final by Graeme Brown, Brett Lancaster, Brad McGee and Luke Roberts, have been the undisputed champion pursuit team, accumulating three straight world championship titles and breaking the world record four times. There was no world record yesterday – windier conditions were against them – but the Australians powered to a consummate 3.527-second victory over Great Britain to win the gold medal in a time of three minutes 58.233sec over the 4000m distance. It was Australia’s second gold medal on the track in Athens and their first team pursuit gold since Michael Grenda, Kevin Nichols, Michael Turtur and Dean Woods rode to victory at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Australia were undeniable favorites, heading into the ride-off with the British after smashing their world record in 3:56.610 in hot benign conditions in Sunday’s qualifying ride. «It’s been two years of pressure coming into this after surprising ourselves with the world record at the (2002) Commonwealth Games and going into three world championships as favorites and coming away with a gold medal,» Roberts said. «And now we came into an Olympic Games as favorites with an unbelievable amount of pressure on us, and to come away with a gold medal again is an unbelievable feeling.» Australian coach Ian McKenzie spoke of the relief in achieving the team’s objective since the last Olympics. «It’s a relief and a big excitement at the same time,» he said. «This is what I and the team have worked so hard for. «I’m in a luxury position. We have six cyclists who could have ridden in today’s final. Australia is very strong.» McGee celebrated his first Olympic gold medal after three bronze and a silver. «In Australia this is top of the top, this is as good as it gets and since I was 17 years old I’ve been trying to win this gold medal for Australia and today we did,» he said. The gold was a bitter-sweet moment for Peter Dawson, who rode in all three world titles and in Sunday’s qualifying ride, along with 2002 and 2004 world champion Stephen Wooldridge, only to miss out on the final and a medal. Dawson was in tears in the middle of the track when his teammates crossed the line and was embraced by them all. «It’s full credit to all the guys who have been working hard at it, eight guys have been working toward this and four guys who’ve won a lot of championships in the last four years couldn’t ride here – Stephen Wooldridge, Ashley Hutchinson, Peter Dawson and Mark Renshaw – and we’re happy we’ve finished the job off,» Roberts said. It was Australia’s second golden medal at the Olympic track cycling following Anna Meares’ victory in the women’s 500m time trial on Friday. While Germany were the first to smash the four-minute barrier for the 4000m pursuit posted when they won gold in Sydney in 2000, the Australians have since set dizzying standards. Brown, Lancaster, Roberts and Dawson carved the record down to 3:57.280 to win the world title in Stuttgart last year and they annihilated Britain in the Commonwealth Games final two years ago and in this year’s world championship in Melbourne. The British team, also containing new Olympic individual pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins, were powerless to stop the Australians from pulling away lap after lap. «We were beaten by a stronger team again and all credit to those guys, they were fantastic,» said British team member Rob Hayles. «We have watched the Australian team many times and we tried to confront them. We tried very hard and the silver medal is OK,» said Wiggins. Spain came from behind to beat Germany for the bronze medal. (AFP)